One in 12 doctors accepts payment from pharmaceutical companies related to opioids

One in twelve physicians - and nearly one in five family medicine physicians - accepted payments from pharmaceutical companies related to opioids, according to a new study out of Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine. This is the first large-scale, national study of industry payments involving opioids and suggests that pharmaceutical companies may have a stronger hold than previously known on how doctors prescribe the powerful drugs. The study results are published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health.

Using Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data, researchers identified 375,255 non-research, opioid-related payments to 68,177 physicians between August 2013 and December 2015 totaling over $46 million. Payments are defined as "transfers of value" - which could be direct money to physicians, a reimbursement for travel, speaking or consulting fees, education or meals. The average payment to physicians was $15, with most receiving one payment per year. However, the top one percent of doctors collectively received more than $38 million (82 percent of the total) and averaged more than $2,600 in yearly payments during the study period.

The Physician Payment Sunshine Act, passed under the Affordable Care Act in 2010, requires drug companies to report all payments to physicians in the United States. Previous research suggests that payments from drug companies may lead to increased prescribing by doctors for marketed medications, even when payments are of low monetary value such as for meals.

"Even though most payments were small, they add up to a shocking number and may have a wide-reaching influence on physician behaviors. We need to take a hard look at how the pharmaceutical industry may be influencing care and prescribing at the ground level," said Scott Hadland, MD, MPH, pediatrician and adolescent addiction specialist who led the study.

Speaking fees accounted for the largest amount of payments and food/beverage payments were the most frequent. Anesthesiologists received the most in total annual payments, but the largest number of payments went to family medicine physicians.

"There's no denying that we have a widespread and systematic problem," said Michael Botticelli, executive director of the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine and former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama. "Pharmaceutical companies should take responsibility for how these payments are contributing to the growing epidemic. Physicians also have a role to play by prescribing judiciously and advancing safe opioid prescribing education on the front lines."

Study authors note that payments related to marketing opioids may run counter to national efforts to reduce excess opioid prescribing. They suggest policymakers consider whether caps should be imposed on certain payments as one possible solution and encourage future research to examine whether payments are related to opioid misuse and overdose.

"The opioid epidemic, which is responsible for thousands of deaths every year, is a national tragedy that we must work at every level to combat. It's our hope that this study sparks a bigger conversation about the role of pharmaceutical companies in the over-prescribing of opioid medications, and prompts a more thorough investigation about what we need to do to tackle this problem," said Brandon Marshall, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, who served as the study's senior author.

Funding was supported by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Drug Abuse (L40 DA042434).

Scott E Hadland, Maxwell S Krieger, Brandon D L Marshall.
Industry Payments to Physicians for Opioid Products, 2013–2015.
American Journal of Public Health 107, no. 9, pp. 1493-1495, doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303982.

Most Popular Now

Most popular vitamin and mineral supplements provi…

The most commonly consumed vitamin and mineral supplements provide no consistent health benefit or harm, suggests a new study led by researchers at St. Michael's Hospital...

Tiny particles could help fight brain cancer

Glioblastoma multiforme, a type of brain tumor, is one of the most difficult-to-treat cancers. Only a handful of drugs are approved to treat glioblastoma, and the median ...

New approach to immunotherapy leads to complete re…

A novel approach to immunotherapy developed by researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has led to the complete regression of breast cancer in a patient who was...

Amgen Foundation and Harvard team up to offer free…

The Amgen Foundation and Harvard University today announced plans to launch a free online science education platform uniquely designed to level the playing field for aspi...

The Pfizer Foundation announces $5 million in gran…

The Pfizer Foundation announced a new $5 million grant commitment to initiatives in low- and middle-income countries that provide family planning access and education for...

What would help or hinder patient participation in…

As clinical trials gear up with the aim of attaining the first FDA-approved treatments for mitochondrial disease, a new study reports for the first time what patients and...

New drugs could also be deployed against lung and …

A new anti-cancer drug may be effective against a wider range of cancers than previously thought. Using a mouse model and samples taken from cancer patients, a team from ...

Update on Phase III clinical trials of lanabecesta…

AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly and Company (Lilly) are discontinuing the global Phase III clinical trials of lanabecestat, an oral beta secretase cleaving enzyme (BACE) inhibi...

Pfizer to expand venture investing with $600 milli…

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) today announced it plans to invest $600 million in biotechnology and other emerging growth companies through Pfizer Ventures, the company’s venture...

Soy lecithin NSAID combo drug protects against can…

When scientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) applied a chemical found in soybeans to a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSA...

Novartis receives positive CHMP opinion for Aimovi…

Novartis announced the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has recommended approval for Aimovig® (erenumab) for t...

FDA takes action against 53 websites marketing una…

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced that it has warned nine online networks, operating a total of 53 websites, that they must stop illegally marketing p...